I always felt like there was something missing in my research trying to uncover the root causes of mental health disorders by using a neuroscience and pharmacology lens. Something was not quite right, and I couldn't quite put my finger on it.
That changed when I participated in an Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) study. An ACE study is a research study that explores the link between childhood trauma and health outcomes in adulthood. Anda and Fellitti pioneered the ACES in 1986.
You can listen to Dr Anda speak on episode #114 of the Thriving Minds podcast.
The ACE study showed that these issues are often rooted in traumatic experiences from childhood, experiences over which individuals have no control. The results of the ACE study were groundbreaking, revealing that individuals who experienced more ACEs were more likely to suffer from mental health disorders, autoimmune diseases, addiction, and a range of chronic diseases. The study found that a staggering two-thirds of participants reported at least one ACE, and more than one in five reported three or more. For years, these conditions were thought to be the result of personal weakness or poor moral character.
But that was just the beginning. Dr Gabor Mate, Author of “The Myth of Normal” discusses. “There is another form of trauma-and this is the kind I am calling universal in our culture-that has sometimes been termed “small-t trauma. The less memorable but hurtful and far more prevalent. These include bullying by peers, the casual but repeated harsh comments of a well-meaning parent, or even just lack of sufficient emotional connection with nurturing adults. If, despite decades of evidence, “big T trauma” has barely registered on the medical radar screen, small- t trauma does not even cause a blip.”
Like any other breakthrough, like chatgpt, psychedelics, mushrooms, why are these results not being shouted from the rooftops and a becoming a mainstay in medical practice? Why do they remain in silence? As Dr Anda says, it is because we have to shine a bright light into the dark cave of being human.
The ACES revelation was a turning point for my research trying to determine the reason why people get mental health disorders and addiction. We have the tools to understand and acknowledge the root of our pain and begin to heal using neuroplasticity, the remarkable ability of the brain to change forever.